Now comes a far more difficult, though still delightful task. Sifting through Helen's dance numbers to separate the 'night-club' numbers from the 'cabaret' numbers - the distinction, I think, lying in the combination of costume, camera angles, and movements. By the time Helen's dances started to get categorised as the latter, the costumes became scantier and more outlandish (wigs, feathers, tons of jewellery), the camera angles started becoming close-ups and dropping lower and lower, and the movements became more and more blatant. The dances switched from the sensuous to the suggestive. It is a shame that they resorted to being tacky when they had a performer who could seduce with the lift of an eyebrow, a sideways glance, a flick of hair from her face, or even just a smile.
In choosing these numbers, I tried to keep away from the blatant, in-your-face numbers even though Helen herself achieved a balance by switching to body suits and performed even the most suggestive of moves with a grace that belied its inherent vulgarity. Here then, off the top of my head, some of the *best* dance numbers that ever were picturised in night clubs - mostly with a fully covered Helen, full of sensuality, definitely with the joy of expression that made her what she was - the queen of dance.
1. Aab-e-Hayaat (1955)
Maara re maara aankhein kataar - Geeta Dutt
2. Jaali Note (1960)
Gustakh nazar chehre se hata - Asha Bhonsle, Mohammed Rafi
They are undercover cops, searching for counterfeiters. So obviously, Dev Anand is in disguise. So is Om Prakash. Only does Helen know it? Or doesn't she? She certainly looks like she would like to pull off their false beards. This is one of the song situations that I really like - it takes the story forward, the verses are post-riposte between the two antagonists, and there is a suspense - will she? won't she? discover their disguise by the end of the song?
Does it matter quite? Helen is beautiful, Dev saab is handsome and the song is one of OP Nayyar's finest compositions. There is yet another Asha-Rafi song in the same nightclub, only this time Dev Anand is accompanied by Madhubala, a rather disapproving Madhu. Not that I blame her, especially when Dev hands her his walking stick and waltzes off with Helen (and I cannot say I blame him either!); she did look like she could hit him on the head with said stick!
3. China Town (1962)
Yamma yamma yamma - Asha Bhonsle, Mohammed Rafi
Brothers separated at birth, one on the right side of the law, the other on a slippery slope; one mustachioed, one cleanshaven; one in love with Shakila, the other who is loved by Helen. This was a joyride to paisa vasool entertainment, doubled by the fact that there were two Shammi Kapoors, and yes, Helen did not die! There are two night club numbers in this film just as there was in Jaali Note.
4. Howrah Bridge (1958)
Mera naam Chin Chin Choo - Geeta Dutt
Even though Madhubala played a nightclub singer in this movie, and could lip-sync to this sensuous Asha Bhonsle number and also dance a nifty reel to Dekh ke teri nazar, Helen had the peppy Geeta Dutt number all to herself. OP Nayyar switched the voices around this time, Asha singing for the heroine.
5. Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966)
Huzurewala - Asha Bhonsle, Minoo Purushottam
It is an interesting song - starts off with castanets and a very Spanish-looking Helen, and a guitar-strumming toreador. Only, by the time the prelude is over, the beat turns very Persian. I am also not sure who the second dancer is (a reader, dustedoff, suggests she may be Madhumati), but by the time the actual song starts, there is nary a Spanish nor Persian influence to be heard. But with Asha and Minoo Purushottam providing the vocals for OP Nayyar's chirpy tune, it is well worth a watch. And there are a couple of fleeting shots of a beautiful Mumtaz (who is playing second lead to Sharmila) and a worried-looking Biswajeet. This is a movie I haven't seen, so any information is welcome. The music ranges from the really good to even better to so-so.
6. Junglee (1961)
Ayyayya Suku Suku - Mohammed Rafi
Castanets. A set with giant paintbrushes and palette and background dancers representing various colours. A glowering Azra. An energetic Shammi Kapoor at his maddest best and a beautiful Helen who matches him step for step and is quite unfazed at finding her performance being taken over by someone from the audience - even when he is followed by an angry girlfriend and she finds herself thrust in between. Shankar-Jaikishen and Mohammed Rafi having a blast. Shammi Kapoor is on record as saying that Rafi put an in an extra-effort into his (SK's) songs.
7. Teesri Manzil (1966)
O haseena zulfonwali - Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhonsle
Teesri Manzil had it all. A murder mystery, beautiful girls who get thrown off hotel balconies, a handsome musician, a glamourous dancer, a spunky heroine and an unlikely villain. Add a director with a deft touch, a pair of leads who were reuniting after more than a decade, Hindi filmdom's reigning dancer, mix in a youthful musical score and you have all the requisite elements for a hit. And what a hit!
Teesri Manzil scored in every department; but it is interesting to note that Shammi Kapoor was not the original choice for Anil / Rocky. It was Dev Anand. Only, he had a spat with Nasir Hussain (the producer) and walked out of the movie. Left high and dry just before shooting was scheduled to start, Nasir Hussain pulled in an old debt - he called Shammi Kapoor and asked him if he would do the film. He did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rafi added his usual zest to a Shammi Kapoor song as the latter swaggered onto screen, Asha joined in the fun, Helen donned a blonde wig and changed costumes as she danced up a storm on elaborate sets, and RD Burman used everything from drums to a saxophone to fork on glass to provide the background to a chartbuster.
8. Woh Kaun Thi (1964)
Tiki riki tiki riki takuri - Asha Bhonsle, Mohammed Rafi
Madan Mohan composing a rock and roll duet? Well, surprises will never cease. Manoj Kumar enjoying himself in a dance? He actually does a mean step. That is another surprise. I never knew he could laugh. Or dance. (Of course, soon after, he is back to his morose expression.) There is a sad Parveen Chaudhary and a concerned KN Singh watching the twosome dance, so you know daal mein kuch kaala milnewala hai.
9. Chhote Nawab (1961)
Matwali Aankhonwali -Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi
A suave, sophisticated Mehmood (somehow that sounds like an oxymoron), Helen, and... castanets! RD must have been going through a Spanish-phase. But a wonderful song nevertheless, though Mehmood is hard put to match Helen, and there are occasional glimpses of a concerned Johnny Walker and quite unconcerned Ameeta to whet your appetite to find out what is going to happen next.
10. Dekha Pyar Tumhara (1963)
Chale aana sanam - Asha Bhonsle
Vintage Helen. Just watch her with the tambourine. She is a revelation. Not one move out of place, and what an expressive face, it makes me wonder just how filmmakers ignored her acting talents, focusing just on her dances.
11. Kala Bazar (1960)
Sambhalo apna dil dilwalo - Asha Bhonsle
The film that had the distinction of having all three Anands (Chetan, Dev and Vijay) acting in it. Written and directed by Vijay Anand, and with music by Naveketan regular SD Burman, the film had Dev Anand play a black marketeer, Vijay Anand the third angle to the triangle, and Chetan Anand as the advocate who fights for the protagonist. Running out of money, Dev Anand shot some of the scenes of him selling tickets in black at the regular premiere of Mother India; he narrates the storyin his autobiography.
12. Bewaqoof (1960)
Dhadka dil dhak se - Asha Bhonsle
Written and directed by IS Johar, starring Kishore Kumar and Johar himself, what can one expect but craziness on screen? There is Helen, unnaturally tanned, Kishore Kumar disguised as a black man, dressed in a tux, top hat, and white gloves, a bewildered Mala Sinha and Pran glowering at Kishore while Helen continues to dance unconcerned by the unholy mess.
13. Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960)
Itni badi mehphil - Asha Bhonsle
Shankar-Jaikishen channeling their inner Harry Belafonte? Or is it 'inspired'? In any case, it is a wonderful job. They have speeded the rhythm up slightly, mixed it up with other Island rhythms and allowed Asha free rein. Evocative lyrics (Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri) - watch Raj Kumar's expression as Helen sings mushkil to yeh hai kiski sunoo apna yahan pe kisko chunoon - he has just given up Meena Kumari in order to marry Nadira, it is normal to question his own heart.
14. 12 O'Clock (1958)
Arre tauba, arre tauba - Geeta Dutt
15. Isi ka Naam Duniya Hai (1962)
O ya habibi - Asha Bhonsle
16. Tarzan Comes To Delhi (1965)
Sun re sun albela - Suman Kalyanpur
Okay, I will confess - this is not a great song. But oh, a bare-chested Dara Singh (in a nightclub!), a young and very pretty Mummu, and Helen, glorious Helen - who can resist the combination??
I must also confess to a moment of sheer perplexity - just why was Dara Singh barechested? It took a 'duh' moment before I realised he must be the titular 'Tarzan' and is in the process of being civilised. And Dara Singh looked rather pleased - I do not know if that is because Helen and her accompanying musicians were dressed as tribals of some sort.
And if anyone has actually seen this movie, I wish they would tell me what the heck is happening there. Or at least point me to where I can procure a copy - I love masala movies, and this looks like it has its share of it.
17. Gyarah Hazar Ladkiyan (1962)
Gham gaya to gham na kar - Asha Bhonsle
Two surprises here - firstly, this is a KA Abbas movie. Two, it has Bharat Bhushan in the lead. In a suit. Smoking a cigarette. Isn't there something wrong with that picture? I can only see him in a dhoti and ganji, singing in Rafi's voice to a girl in a boat or in a field or something. IMDB has nothing further on it, and I am lost. *plaintive cry* Someone, help! KA Abbas' movies usually have very social themes; and a strong script, but Mala Sinha? And Bharat Bhushan? The mind boggles at the thought. Anyway, here is Helen providing the background to the leads.
18. Gumnaam (1965)
Hum Kaale hai to kya hua dilwale hai - Mohammed Rafi
How could I have missed this one?! Apart from the fact that this was Mehmood without his (later) irritating mannerisms, it also provided the necessary comic relief in a whodunnit based on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Of course, when the movie was made, the book still had its politically incorrect title. Gumnaam also won Mehmood a Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award, back in the days when the award had some value.
19. Kabli Khan (1962)
Khichi khichi si nazar - Lata Mangeshkar
Another Ajit-Helen combination; Chitragupt's compostion makes the list only because it seems to be the 'older' version of a night club. I may be stretching a point but this song is beautiful! Again, a song that I have heard in my childhood without knowing which film / composer / actors etc., and therefore it is a shock to realise it comes from a movie of which I have not heard at all!
And this is a movie from the 60s. What was Doordarshan thinking of?! My education in older movies is totally incomplete. Especially since it is a raja-rani sort of movie and I am a sucker for them! There is also a lovely patriotic number in the same tavern; Lata's voice, a disguised Helen (whom even Ajit recognises, so it is not very difficult for the rest of us), a uniformed Ajit, and an evil Jayant. And Youtube threw up the other songs from the film - beautiful numbers, all of them. And they run the gamut from romantic to a Sufi sort of a number to a sad song - the works! Man, I need this DVD now!
20. Inteqam (1969)
Aa jaane jaa - Lata Mangeshkar
Apparently, Lata was miffed that Asha was considered more 'versatile'; even though everyone praised her voice and her range, no one really offered her the 'sensuous' songs. The seductive numbers, the nightclub songs - they were all offered to Geeta Dutt and later to Asha Bhonsle. LP were *her* proteges. One story goes that they persuaded her to sing this song for them; the other version is that she arm-twisted them (can't have needed much arm-twisting!) into singing this.Whatever be the truth behind the tale, Lata proved a point. And how! I had to add this, though this *is* a cabaret number.
*Coinkadinks of coinkadinks - dustedoff just posted a review of aab-e-hayaat, and identified 'girl in disguise' at the tavern as Shashikala. I must confess that even with the screencaps, I still found it difficult to recognise her.